India has completed work on the first of four tunnels drilled through the Himalayas to connect the Indian-controlled Kashmir with its northern Ladakh region, on the border with China.
According to media reports, the 6.5km tunnel will make the resort town of Sonamarg accessible during the winter months. The Zoji La pass that connects Sonamarg with Ladakh is closed by snow for seven months of the year.
Altogether, the tunnels are expected to cost around $1bn. The final one, a 14km-long bore between Sonmarg and Drass, is expected to be completed in 2025, when it will take the record as the longest in India.
The project will allow India year-round access to Ladakh, and complements a massive programme of works to improve connectivity in the area, which includes the construction of 57 roads and 32 helipads, as wells as 47 outposts and 12 staging camps for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.
Ladakh, which has a disputed border, has been the scene of clashes between the Indian and Chinese army in recent years, including a fight with clubs last year that is thought to killed about 60 soldiers (see further reading).
Both countries have since been building up both infrastructure and military base in the area.
Image: Ladakh’s roads are closed by snow for much of the year (Phuongphoto/Dreamstime)